Ryan does a quick preview of Calico, a new puzzle board game to recently hit Kickstarter.
Designed by Kevin Russ
Ages: 13+ (we recommend 10+)
Published by Flatout Games
Genre/Mechanics: Tile-Laying Puzzle Game
Calico is game designers Kevin Russ’ game debut, currently on Kickstarter from Flatout Games. It what you get when you mix a puzzle game with quilting, cats and colorful buttons in a blender (Note: I am not suggesting a literal blender). The gameplay is as simple as placing a a single tile (maybe up on 1 of 6 colors and 1 of 6 different patterns) on the board (seeing if it triggers getting a cat or a button – more on that in a second) for your turn and then drawing your hand of tiles back to two, by taking one of the three faceup tiles in a market. What exactly are you trying to do with those tiles you are laying down? Well, three things. The first is trying to meet one of the three goal patches on your quilt, by surrounding it with the proper things it needs. If the goal patch reads AA-BB-CC, you are trying to surround it with 3 different colors (2 of each) or three different patterns (2 of each). If sucessful you will score the points indicated on the patch at the end of the game. If you can accomplish BOTH color and pattern you will score the higher point value for being a quilting wizard. Each game also has 3 different cats that are looking for certain patterns in groups or in a certain shape. If you can make that pattern group or shape, and cat token is placed on your quilt to score points at the end of the game. Finally, if you can 3 or more of the same color group together, you get a button of that color (worth 3 points) added to your quilt. If you can get a button of each color, you can a bonus rainbow button to place on your quilt (that is worth additional 3 points). Everyone will finish in the same round, which is when the quilts 22 hex-spaces have all been filled in. Then you score your goals, your cats, and your buttons, with the highest score winning.
I’ve only played Calico as a 3-player game and worked perfectly at the player range. There is a variation for 2-players of taking some tiles out to take out some of the randomnesses of the draw at that player count. There is also a solo variant for those that like to play their games solo. There are also family, standard and advanced setups. For the family, variant players ignore the goal patches (turns this facedown) and focus only on cats and button scoring. Standard and advance play the same (as described above) – with the exception that standard has standard (instead of randomized goals and cats) that are every time with that setup. I have played both standard and advanced games, and enjoy the different setups that advance brings. However, I can appreciate the standard version of play not only for its ease of teaching the game to new players (or your own first time) but also for the faster setup, if you are on a time crunch.
Gameplay-wise, outside of the puzzle-y goodness the game provides, it does some pretty cool things that may not be noticed the first playthrough. First, though I am not color-blind, nor anyone in my playgroup – it is nice the tiles do, in fact, have little symbols (same as the button of said color) to represent the color on the tile to help colorblind players. Something that is really clever is, the board around the playing area is surrounded by pre-printed patch hexes that can be counted towards the cat and button goals. You may not think about this first playthrough, but what this does is, makes the hexes that do not touch one of the 3 goal spaces, still matter, and important. Yes, those hexes are far off in a corner, but using the ones printed on this board, I can complete this cat requirement and this button requirement. It is nice to be able to combo off the board spaces, and they aren’t just there for visual art purposes.
Also, lately, I have been focusing a lot lately on gameschooling (using board games in a learning setting) and as a side note, if a teacher would like to use Calico in the classroom, I could see it being used as a STEM game. In its own way (maybe not on purpose but still) you are learning some coding skills of recognizing and creating patterns like AAA-BB-C or AAAA-BB-CC, etc. Just something to keep in mind.
I’ve been following Calico’s development journey for a quite a while on social media, and to finally play it (multiple times) with my family has been a blessing. Calico plays extremely smooth, it’s the perfect mix of easy to understand rules and brain burner puzzleliness. If you are a fan of puzzle games – games like Richochet Robots, Patchwork, Sagrada, Azul or Barenpark (you know the big standout puzzle games ) – Calico not only fits in with the said games above, but also holds its own, against any of those games! I highly recommend this one to puzzle fans. If you’re new to puzzle-style board games this one is as good as any of those above to start with, maybe even better because it has a standard scenario for new players, before diving fully into the advance goals and cats patterns.
Thanks to Flatout Games for sending me a preview copy to check out for an honest review.